Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man begins with Peter retelling his origin story. From the spider bite that gave him his powers to the moment uncle Ben was killed, in six panels, Zdarsky brings the reader up to speed on all that makes Spider-Man the hero that he is. For a reader new, this recap will be a much-appreciated montage of events that establish the character’s modus operandi, for a seasoned comic fan, this is a red flag.
With the current glut of Spider-Man and Spider-Man-related titles on the market, fans have reason to be wary of the newest series out this week by Chip Zdarsky and Adam Kubert. In a market currently bloated by multi-series characters, Spider-Man being perhaps the worst offender (I count 9 different series/series variants and a slew of crossovers and mini-series), it is difficult to justify another Spider-Man book on store shelves. Yet, even with this strike against it, there is no denying the charm of this book and its promise of a fun and fresh Spider-Man story.
Zdarsky and company describe the title as a return to the streets for a hero now an international icon, and they begin aptly so, with Peter rehashing what I assume almost every Spider-Man fan already knows (spider bite, dead uncle, great power, yada yada yada). But, right as a reader may begin to worry that this is going to be another reboot in a deluge of reboots, Johnny Storm reminds Peter, and the reader, that this story has been told before. In what could have been a cheap refresh on the character to generate excitement for Spider-Man: Homecoming in July, Zdarsky sets up a story that embraces a love for what made Peter Parker great in the first place, while acknowledging the growth that he has undergone over the years.
The first scene of the issue perfectly establishes this dichotomy of old and new. In the flashback panels, Kubert depicts Peter as if he was a teen of the 60s, and uses a traditional six-panel page to show the various events that led Peter to become Spider-Man. Additionally, Nathan Fairbairn uses muted shading instead of color to give the images a black-and-white photo feel. But, turn the page, and the reader is met with a sprawling two-page splash, radiating with color, as the story moves into the present. This is not going to be a reboot. And, perhaps to establish just how much has changed from the Spider-Man of old, the narrative begins with Peter having lunch with Johnny Storm, former member of the legacy team, the Fantastic Four. People have grown up, events have changed the world that Parker inhabits, this story is not going to be a pure throwback to the Golden Age. Also, this scene gives Zdarsky the opportunity for Spidey and Torch to exchange an adorable hug before they jet off to fight crime.
From here, the story follows the regular beats to establish a broader mystery that will need to be solved, and concludes with a strangely abrupt cliffhanger that will, nevertheless, ensure readers come back next month. This may be the least appealing part of the story so far: It feels safe. Zdarsky brings the funny and Kubert dishes out the action, but it all feels calculated to ensure maximum readership without really doing much new with the character. While Spectacular Spider-Man is not going to be a pure reboot, it certainly is not going to be a radical shift in the norm. Spider-Man is Spider-Man is Spider-Man, and at the end of the day, he is here to sell comics and movie tickets (Marvel editor Nick Lowe even admits that the book is coming out to market Spider-Man to a new audience who can take its money to the theaters in the coming month).
This is not to say that the book is not enjoyable from beginning to end. Zdarsky and company tell an engaging story in issue #1, and I look forward to where Peter’s adventure will go from here. Taking Zdarsky’s past work on series like Howard the Duck and Jughead into consideration, Spider-Man should be a funny, exciting, and heartfelt adventure that will pay off in the end. My only real concern at this point is the possibility that Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man will be like Zdarsky’s other comics, and only be a limited run. Until that time comes, I am going to enjoy my time with Spider-Man, and look forward to what Zdarsky has for readers in the coming months.